Leanne’s Journal: Hebbridean Hopper Tour

A few weeks ago, I came across a viral article saying Scotland was the most beautiful country on Earth. This had always been a place on my radar to tour but after seeing all the beautiful images of the Hebridean landscape, a place renowned for its rugged beauty and isolation, I knew Scotland was a place I had to visit as soon as possible! The Hebridean Hopper toured the Western Isles off the North-West coast and the Highlands.

First day in, we departed from the old and charismatic town of Edinburgh. We all gathered at the Haggis office on the Royal Mile, one of Edinburgh’s most historic streets to acquaint ourselves with the new group and bus driver/tour guide, Lee. Hopping on the bus we were greeted with some in-depth history of Edinburgh and beautiful views of the countryside. It didn’t take long to find out that Lee was a hilarious and painfully dry-humoured Scotsman with an abundance of knowledge about his culture, terribly punny jokes and a thick Scottish accent.

Our first stop caught autumn in action at Rogie Falls. We entered the forest for a short walk to the main view and had a beautiful glimpse of these impressive waterfalls. Over the suspension bridge at Black Water River you can get a unique sight of wild salmon leaping up the flowing streams. We then took a ferry to see Isle of Lewis and Harris and saw a gorgeous sunset over the ocean on our way to a small town called Stornoway, where we stayed for the night.

At the Isle of Lewis we took a visit to the Callanish stones, a set of mysterious standing stones that are the oldest rocks in Britain, and some of the oldest in the world. If you’ve ever watched Outlander, you’ll recognise this place as a mystical teleportation device – many of our group came running to the rocks to strike their poses. This place is also known to be the ‘Stonehenge of the North’, but built around 3000 BC, these stones actually came 2000 years earlier! And unlike at Stonehenge, you can get up close and personal with it.

There was much to see on our few days exploring Isle of Lewis and Harris, as there were so many beautiful sights so condensed. With the days jam packed with activities and sightseeing, the time on the bus actually felt minimal. One interesting stop was the Broch towers, a Stone Age building unique to Scotland and a structure you’d never see anywhere else! Dun Carloway is the most well-preserved Broch (circular stone tower) in the Outer Hebrides, and was once used for defensive measures and a status symbol for the wealthy. At first glance from afar, I thought this was a giant boulder; but come closer and you’ll see it’s a very interesting and resourceful structure.

We visited a local whisky distillery, learning about the full production process of a genuine single malt whisky. From malting the barley, fermentation, distillation and maturing the casks we got to see this craft from beginning to end at the Distillery of Abahhn Jagn. We learnt for a beverage to be classified as “true whisky” it must be aged in oak barrels for 3 years and 1 day.

Over the islands we passed by sparkling lakes, old Gaelic villages, and luscious greenery. We also visited the Gearrannan Blackhouse village to see preserved old village huts, and the traditional process of weaving authentic Harris Tweed. Luskentyre beach was a beautiful surprise, famous for its white sand. The sand was so impeccable it confused me for a salt flat, and the turquoise blue water that had me thinking I was right in the Caribbean. So shocking to find a gem like this in the North Atlantic!

I’ve met many people who have travelled to Scotland, and many told me there is a special magic you feel when you’re there. I knew straight away what they were talking about as soon as I hit the Isle of Skye. This beautiful isle was my favourite leg of the journey. The history of the land was so fascinating and our guide Lee (theatrically) performed some of the best stories I’ve heard on a tour! There were tales of witches and giants, kelpies and curses from fairies which all made the magic of this stunning place feel all the more real.

We saw the Fairy pools, Kilt Rock and participated in old superstitions like the story of the Sligachan River – stopping by a stone bridge to hear the story, and dipping our faces in the water for 7 seconds (as it is believed to preserve eternal beauty and youth!). We had many photo ops on this island, and snapped happy at Eilean Donnan Castle, arguably the most photographed castle in the world. We also reveled in the most epic series of mountains at Glencoe, with many sights that you’d see in the Harry Potter world.

Although the weather in Scotland is known for its constant gloom and rain, it was the best weather for hearty warm meals like meat pies and soups. But of course, I had to try haggis. I’d always thought that if it tasted how it sounded, it’d probably make me gag. It consists of sheep innards, cooked with oats and spices. We tried it on our last night during our home-cooked dinner at Morag’s lodge; I was hesitant at first, but it wasn’t at all horrible! Many passengers gave it a go, quite worried with what they’d find. But we ate it with chicken and it just tasted, well, like any other meat. Other than this must-try, over the last 5 days I devoured the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. I unashamedly had this every single day. Something about the fish the use here, haddock, goes so well with the crispy batter. I’m obsessed!

I had an awesome time exploring Scotland’s best-kept secrets on the Hebridean Hopper. A day on a Haggis coach usually means a day on the most scenic road trip ever! It’s quite possible that Scotland is the most magical place on earth. You can feel the magic in its landscapes and greenery, in its fairytales and castles; it’s a feeling you can only realise when you step into the Highlands, and this trip had me rolling in deep Scottish love.

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